Further down, I explain a bit about efforts to bring greater transparency and accountability into Arkansas’s legal system. My hope is to one day see a more open and accountable judiciary throughout the United States.
Last month, the Commercial Appeal in Memphis published an article about “Life After Death,” the new book by Damien Echols. The piece, titled “Memoir’s Missing Element,” was written by Marc Perrusquia, a reporter who has covered the West Memphis murders since since the discovery of the victims’ bodies in 1993.
In his recent piece, Perrusquia took Echols to task for barely mentioning in his memoir the “odd behavior” that he says kept the attention of police and the public focused on Echols during the murder investigation and subsequent trials. “Yes, there was a degree of ‘satanic panic,’” Perrusquia wrote, “there was hysteria, prejudice, police incompetence, and overreaching prosecution and crime lab blunders.
“But the perfect storm that put Echols on death row includes one critical element he isn’t willing to consider: his own baffling, often frightening behavior.” Perrusquia then recounted details from the record of the case and from his own interviews that paint a picture of Echols as a deeply troubled and narcissistic teen intent on becoming famous.
Lonnie Soury, a media advisor who is part of Echols’ legal team, responded to that article with a letter to the Commercial Appeal that Soury says has not, to his knowledge, been published. Soury provided me with a copy of his letter, which he titled “Finding Answers to an Uncomfortable Truth.” In that he wrote:
“The uncomfortable truth is that the reporter refuses to admit that he and others contributed to the hysteria that led directly to Damien’s death sentence.” However, Soury continued, “Rather than delve into the reasons why three innocent men were imprisoned while the perpetrator of the crime has been allowed to remain in the community, the reporter finds it far more comfortable to blame Damien Echols once again for contributing now to his admittedly wrongful conviction.”
Perrusquia ended his article with questions:
“So, what are we to make of Echols? If he is indeed innocent, as evidence now suggests, Arkansas authorities need to toss out last year’s Alford plea and pay Echols and his co-defendants the millions they deserve. That said, however, it is hard to understand him. For whatever reasons, he diverted valuable attention that might have resolved the murders of three little boys years ago. And for all his newfound articulation, he fails to answer the most critical of questions: Who is he?”
“I would ask it another way. Who are we? Who are we as a society to allow thousands of men and women to rot in prison wrongfully convicted? Who are we as journalists to blame the victim rather than those responsible for putting him behind bars? Who are we as police, prosecutors, judges, and a community to allow these three men to spend half their lives in prison and be forced to accept a plea deal to get out?”
New paperback edition of “The Boys on the Tracks” now available.
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